This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. In observance, this week USAID is profiling brave individuals and dynamic programs focused on addressing gender-based violence around the world.
The statistics are staggering: one out of three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Not only are the economic, legal, and social effects devastating and lasting, but gender-based violence has serious health implications.
Physical and sexual violence affects women’s health and well-being and detracts from her reproductive health. Women who have experienced violence are more likely to use contraceptive methods in secret, be stopped by their abusive partner from using family planning, and have a partner who refuses to use a condom. Consequently, they are more likely to have unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, and to become pregnant as adolescents. Children of abused women have a higher risk of death before reaching age five and violence during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight of babies. Forced and unprotected sex and related trauma increase the risk that women will be infected by STIs and HIV.
The health sector can play a vital role in preventing gender-based violence by helping to identify abuse early, providing victims with the necessary treatment, and referring women to appropriate and informed care. USAID supports stand-alone activities as well as programs that integrate anti-gender violence activities and messages into broader health efforts. Emphasis is placed on prevention interventions such as community mobilization and behavior change communication activities to address and transform the underlying norms that perpetuate violence. By addressing gender violence, health programs can enhance their effectiveness, enable women who have experienced violence to benefit from existing programs, and prevent the escalation of such violence.
Freeing women from violence results in healthier lives for them and for their families. In turn women and their families are able to contribute more to their communities and nations.